Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
Mr William Swindler, or Billy, as he’d written in the guestbook, waltzed into the room like he’d been there before. He was a well-dressed young gentleman, wearing a newly ironed three piece suit with a black tie, and was carrying a small briefcase in his right hand. Resting on his nose were a pair of dark sunglasses, and looking into the frames one could have seen all the candles in the room reflecting back, like his eyes were made of fire. Cecelia, who was sitting at a round table placed slightly off-centre, was also wearing dark glasses. But she could not see through them. She just knew that Billy had entered the room. He didn’t greet her, so she didn't greet him. It’s common courtesy for a person to announce themselves when they enter the presence of a blind individual, but Cecelia already knew that Billy was not common. She reached out across the table, which he’d taken a seat at, and found his hands. They were well worn, and rough, like a reliable pair of leather gloves. Not the hands of a young man.
“I’m surprised you came,” She spoke softly, with a slight northern english accent, still touching his hands. He tensed his muscles and grimaced. “You didn’t sound particularly convinced on the phone.”
Clearing his throat, Billy pulled his hands away from Cecelia’s and instinctively reached to his neck. He was wearing a silver chain with a gold key hanging from it, which he fondled with his fingers as he leant back in the chair. “I’m a skeptic, so shoot me.” His voice was deep, with a cornish twang that made him sound friendly yet stern. Cecilia guessed he hadn’t been back there in a long time, and that he didn’t plan on returning again. He was trying hard to cover the accent, but it just made him sound a little fake.
“And that’s perfectly fine!” Cecelia leant back in her chair and pushed her glasses up her nose. “It’s not my job to convince you, only show you what I can do and leave you to come to your own conclusions. It isn’t unusual for clients to tell me they’re skeptical of my practices.”
“Then why do they come?” Billy asked, still clutching the key in his hand. It was a comfort to know it was still there, just in case he needed to open the briefcase which he’d placed on the floor under his rather rickety wooden chair. He kicked his heel back just to make sure the case was still there too. It was, answering with a small, hollow thud.
Cecilia smiled at him, revealing a set of crooked yet perfectly white teeth. “Why did you come?”
“Well, to, er -” Billy began to stutter, almost forgetting his cover story, but he quickly regained his words. He’d been doing this a long time - different story, same gimmick. Visit a psychic, expose their tricks, blackmail them. And if they resisted, there was always the suitcase. “I’m just here to affirm my views. I’m logical, and I like to do my research - you can’t disprove something, only prove it. So if I can’t disprove it, then like you said, it’s up to you to prove it. And if you can’t, then I know it’s not real.”
“Oh stop lying to yourself!” Cecelia snorted, rolling her eyes. “You just just want a question answered, I know you do. I’m probably the fiftieth psychic you’ve visited trying to find the answer you want and no-one lived up to your expectations yet. Spare me the theoretical bullshit. There are plenty of things you can’t prove yet they still exist. You can’t prove to me that sight exists because I’ve never known that gift.”
Billy thought on that for a second, trying not to seem stupid with his answer. There was something about Cecelia that was different from the previous women he’d visited. The setting was the same, the backroom of a small metaphysical shop staffed by young women covered in tattoos who knew everything about crystals. But Cecelia, or rather, Madam Cecelia Reid as the sign above the shop read, seemed much more genuine than anyone else, even in the small amount of words they’d exchanged. “But I’m not blind.” He replied. “I can see. I can describe things to you -”
“Yes,” Cecelia sighed “but I don’t know that, do I? I don’t know what any of these things look like so how do I know you’re not just making it up? It goes both ways. Only people like to believe in visual sight and tend to have a problem with spiritual sight. You have five senses, so do I. What I lack in vision I gained in vision.”
“So only blind people can be psychics then?”
“No, don’t be daft. It’s just a lot easier for us to see the otherside. Angels and demons reveal themselves to me because I cannot see what they look like, and that’s how they like it. And it’s angels and demons that I get my knowledge from, my dear.”
There was a small silence as Billy thought of a question to ask, whilst simultaneously trying not to laugh at what Cecelia was claiming. “So you’re saying that angels -”
“If you weren’t subconsciously attracted to the idea then you wouldn’t be here, Billy. Now, you’re wasting not only your time here but also your money if we don’t get on with the reading.”
Billy groaned in acceptance, still not believing her. Why was he arguing with a blind lady? He was only here because he needed more cash, and because his life was admittedly so dull that he had resorted to blackmailing schizophrenic old women for the thrills. He wasn’t going to be paying her for his time, no, she would certainly be paying him. He knew the sort of tricks these psychics and mediums used, and he had connections to use as threats.
Cecilia giggled nervously as though she could hear him. “Okay, right. Let’s get to it!”
From her pockets she brandished a small deck of tarot cards. It was an old deck, and heavily used. Billy could see the detailed artwork painted onto each one as Cecelia shuffled the cards in front of him. He quickly glanced round the room again, looking for any sign of a set up. Maybe she had a bluetooth device in her ear and someone was on the other end, about to feed her information on him found on the internet. No, he could see both her ears. The room was a little cramped, and certainly a fire hazard with all the candles.
“Touch the cards,” Cecilia instructed, breaking his train of thought. She held them out across the table towards him. “Give me a bit of your energy to work with.”
Billy obliged and gently brushed the cards with his right forefinger.
“Ask them what you want to know. Out loud, in your head, in morse code, it doesn’t matter. Keep your finger on the deck.”
What did Amelia mean when she said there were other things waiting for me? She had been right earlier, when she’d suggested he had a question he wanted the answer to. Not that he was ever going to get an answer. Not from a psychic, anyway. Break ups always left him with a lot of questions, and Amelia had been one crazy bitch. He said all this in his head, as a control. If she didn’t know the question, or who Amelia was, how could the reading make any sense?
“Perfect. Now sit back, and listen. Or, sorry, watch, since you seem so convinced of your sight.” Cecelia tutted as she shuffled the cards again until one flew from the deck and landed on the table, face down. “Turn it over. Don’t turn it round if it’s upside down. Reversed cards have certain meanings.”
Billy, who was slouched back in the chair, reached out with his right hand and turned the card over. It detailed a skeleton holding a heart that had been stabbed by three ornate swords. Cecelia sighed. She hated this card.
“This won’t answer your question, not yet, but you’ve recently experienced a huge loss. That’s why you’re here, correct? You were hurt, you still are. You’re trying not to show it but you shouldn’t be ashamed. Your sister wouldn’t want you to feel like that, especially not over a break up.”
“What?” Billy was taken aback for a second, losing his cool and calm persona. “Who told you about my sister?” He hadn’t even been thinking about her. In fact, he hadn’t thought about her in years. Now he was conscious of what he was thinking, suddenly paranoid that she could read his mind. Or hear his thoughts, rather.
“The cards told me, Billy. You can hold onto the card if it makes you feel better.” She began shuffling the cards again. “Here’s a potential solution to your grief.” Cecelia placed a second card down on the table, and Billy hastily turned it over. It showed a tall tower, with a skeleton in one of the many windows. Cecilia instantly gasped and reached for Billy’s hand.
“What does the tower mean?”
“It means that - and I’m really, really sorry - a disaster is coming. You can’t avoid it, it’s a - a -” She flapped the hand that wasn’t holding the deck around in the air, searching for the right word. “ A transformation of some kind, yes. You’ll learn something you didn’t want to know, but that you need to know. This is huge, everything you thought was real is going to change.”
Billy laughed out of uncomfortableness. “Piss off. You’re having me on now.”
“The angels are giving me a message for you. It’s about your sister. No, from your sister. It’s about your girlfriend. She passed away, yes? I feel like she’s trying to tell me something about your girlfriend. No, no-” Cecelia took a deep breath and leant her head backwards. She was deep in conversation inside her own mind, conversing with what she saw as the other side. “She’s trying to give me a message from your girlfriend. Wait, there’s more. More women. They’re all connected to you somehow. There’s -”
“NO!” Billy interrupted. “No, stop. I’ve realised this was just a waste of money and a con. You probably say the same thing to every client that comes in here!” That was a lie. He was the con, and she was too good for him to blackmail. She was blind yet she knew the cards - how had he missed that? He was starting to believe, and that wasn’t a good thing.
Cecelia sighed again and put the deck down. It wasn’t unusual for a client to act so irrational - no one wants to hear bad news - but something wasn’t right about Billy. Or rather, there was something wrong with him. The man sitting opposite the table from her wasn’t the same man who’d waltzed in the door so confidently barely ten minutes ago. He’d been putting up a font, and it was crumbling.
“Okay, okay. We don’t have to continue if you don’t want to.”“I don’t want to, no.”
“That’s okay. I’m sorry. Sometimes, when you’re not used to it, spiritual awakenings like this can be very overwhelming.”
Billy scoffed. “Spiritual bullshit, you mean. A spiritual con where you scare people into coming back and spending more and more on readings and crystals and plants and whatever else you sell in that lame little shop back there.”
There were a few seconds of silence and both of them struggled to find words to say. Finally, Cecelia settled on asking a question. She had had so many questions, and most of them had been answered by the angels. The answers weren’t pretty and she was growing worried for her own safety, but there was one thing they didn’t know.
“What’s in the briefcase, Billy?”
The young man reached up and clutched the key again, feeling the jagged edges push into his palm as he squeezed it. He gulped and kicked the briefcase again, the empty thud reassuring him it was still there. A certain type of rage was brewing inside him, rising up from his toes to his teeth and making them chatter as he tried to restrain himself. How dare she ask that! After all she’d just been spouting at him. He smirked at her, his whole body uncontrollably shaking now. He had a question, too.
“What’s behind your glasses, Cecelia?”
But Cecelia had gone.
In quite literally the blink of an eye, Cecelia had vanished. There were no footsteps, no squeaking of the doorknob or slamming of the door. Billy jumped up and looked round the small room he’d been sitting in. It suddenly seemed so foreign to him. He hadn’t had the chance to properly take in his surroundings - the bright, swirling murals on the walls, the bead curtains that had been clicking against each other due to the slight breeze coming through the window, the large black candle of a man with two faces that had been burning in the corner. The room smelt like a mix of lemon and garlic, and it was getting really hot, despite the breeze. There were no cupboards, nothing to hide behind, and the door was shut. Cecelia had disappeared.
As he leant down to pick up his briefcase, Billy checked under the table, but she wasn’t there. She must have just left. He must have been so upset that he’d missed her leaving. He pulled open the door and stepped back into the shopfront that he’d entered through, thankful for the bright light that hit him as he pulled off his sunglasses. There was no one around, but the shop door was open, and the street outside was somewhat busy for a Sunday afternoon.
He composed himself, brushing the creases out of his trousers, and regained his waltz, sauntering over to the counter. A brass bell sat in the middle and he hit it three times, the brassy sound ringing out louder than expected.
“Mr Swindler?” Came a concerned young voice from round the corner. A young girl, late teens, perhaps, quickly shuffled into view.
“Yes. Right, I’ve just been -”
“I’m really sorry,” the girl spoke over him, leaning across the counter with a sorrowful expression, her eyes wide and forgiving. “We’ve been trying to reach you all day to cancel your appointment. Madam Cecelia was found dead in her home last night, we were informed by her daughter this morning. Your phone kept going straight to voicemail. I’m so sorry, I don’t know what I’m going to do now. She owns this place, I need this job.” The girl was very pretty, with long red hair that hung way past her waist. She had a red heart drawn underneath each eye and red lipstick to match. She had also been crying, streaks visible in her makeup.
Billy smiled out of politeness and confusion. He looked from the girl to the clock on the back wall above her head. The clock was broken, stuck at six sixteen. He’d been up at six sixteen, on his way to the funeral home to make arrangements for Amelia. He would have been half way there.
“She can’t be dead, I was just speaking to her.”